Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Caskets to Crawfish

"When it rains, . . . do laundry." Words we use as a scheduling guide.

So, as we were midway through the laundry, Kate observed, "Have you noticed the number of men doing laundry (in the Lafayette laundromat)? Any significance?"

"Six men doing laundry does not indicate a trend," I quickly responded.

"Those six men are the only other people here. That's not a trend, that's an established behavior pattern," Kate responded even more quickly.

"Where are we having lunch today?" was my only retort.

Lunch. Food was always a topic of common interest; fortunately, the lunch question was easily answered.

Eighteen months ago, Chuck and I were in New Orleans to attend a conference. The day after the conference ended, we, along with the Shermans (Lenore and Sonny), drove to the Lafayette area for the night. Following a recommendation from a woman at the Tourist and Information Bureau, we stopped in Breaux Bridge for lunch at Café Des Amis.

The minute we entered this charmingly funky restaurant, I told the group that I had seen this place on the Food Network. And a decal on the front window does proclaim that Café des Amis had been featured on one of the network’s programs.

Since we enjoyed our meals there on that trip, we knew that Café des Amis was a must during this stay. So we took a drive to Breaux Bridge for lunch – along with what must have been half the population of this small Cajun town.

The lunch menu contains an extensive list of appetizers along with salads, sandwiches, soups, gumbos, and luncheon entrees. Chuck decided on the appetizer portion of fried crawfish with remoulade sauce (photo above) and a bowl of the seafood corn bisque (photo below). My choices were a salad topped with fried crawfish (photo below) and the duck and andouille sausage gumbo. Unfortunately, they were out of the latter, so instead, I chose a cup of the okra and shrimp gumbo (photo above).

In both of our cases, the crawfish were covered – almost too much so – with a crisp coating. I say almost too much so because the heavy coating overwhelmed the tails and, in the case of some pieces, was the predominant taste. Chuck’s crawfish came with a delicious mayonnaise-based remoulade sauce with just a hint of tomato and a judicious amount of seasoning.

My salad was a mix of red leaf lettuce, baby greens, and radicchio with red onion slivers, grape tomatoes, shredded parmesan cheese and topped with an appetizer-sized portion of fried crawfish. My dressing choice was the parmesan peppercorn which I forgot to ask for on the side, but – to my relief – the dressings was served in a small dish that my mother would have referred to as a ‘sherbet’ bowl. Like Chuck’s remoulade sauce, the dressing was the perfect balance of cheese, pepper, and seasonings.

His bisque was thicker than I would have liked, but Mr. “I want my spoon to stand upright” thought that it was just right. Again, all of the tastes balanced well, but we both agreed that it was cooler in temperature than ideal. My gumbo was good, but I think that I would have liked the duck and andouille better. I prefer the intense roux flavor that works best with a meat and sausage gumbo. The lighter roux that works best with seafood is almost bland to me. There was a good amount of okra in the gumbo – but only three small shrimp.

My final rating reflects three concerns – too cool bisque, over-crusted crawfish, and my pet peeve. When I am spending twenty dollars a person on lunch, don’t give me whipped butter in prepackaged mini-tubs. Granted, this is better than “churned spread” but still – is it too hard for a restaurant of this caliber to give us non-whipped, non-prepackaged butter? So Café des Amis earns at 4.0 (out of 5.0) Addies.

The shell of the building dates to 1890, but two fires have necessitated some changes. In an earlier life, the building housed a casket manufacturer on the upper floor. A hand crank (left) was used to operate the elevator that moved caskets between floors. The hand crank mechanism was styled into a unique hostess stand by Toby Rodriguez, a local artist and craftsman.

Cafe Des Amis opened in 1992, and the signatures of the many artists who helped create the atmosphere of this cafe adorn the columns and walls.

These artists can be very proud of the results of their work.

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